The death of Elizabeth Edwards this week leaves three children without their mother, including two children ages 12 and 10. What can the Edwards family and friends do to help them through their grief?

Research by psychoanalysts at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis on The Effects of Early Parent Deaths showed:

The most important thing is to make sure the children have time to grieve, are encouraged to talk about their feelings, and are helped to remember their mom. If that doesn’t happen, the children may wall up emotions and enter an “emotional deep freeze” can keep them from enjoying meaningful personal relationships for the rest of their lives.

To keep that from happening, the family might help keep the parent’s memory alive with photos, stories, and constant reminders of the positive aspects of their relationships.

While losing one’s mother is always painful, some positive may eventually come out of this experience. Analysts have found that if a child has special talents or positive personal traits, those can become accelerated by the death of a parent. Many of the victims of early child-loss turn out to be even more successful than they might have been without that experience.

That’s because these children understand, as few others do, that life is short and it really does end, and you have to get going right away. Also, some children are motivated to work harder to honor that deceased beloved parent.

As the analysts explained. “(I)f the child has anything going for him, this trauma often will spur him to go farther and faster than he would have under normal conditions.”

The analysts also agreed that the early death of a parent sometimes makes the child grow up to be even more sensitive to the feelings of others.

The reference material also discusses the anniversary reaction to early parent death, which occurs when the child reaches the age the parent was at the time of death. It can be a fear of suddenly dying, or frightening dreams, or some other manifestation that therapy can help.

Sandra Pesmen,

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Sandra Pesmen

Sandra Pesmen, host of, also writes the weekly DR.JOB column syndicated by Career News Service. A member of The Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and The University of Illinois Media Alumni Hall of Fame, Ms. Pesmen is author of “DR. JOB’s Complete Career Guide,“ and “Writing for the Media: Public Relations and the Press.” A reporter, features writer and editor, this business journalist was features editor of Crain’s Chicago Business from its inception in 1978 to 1990, when she became corporate features editor for its parent, Crain Communications Inc. She also wrote the monthly Executive Woman column in North Shore magazine in suburban Chicago for many years. Previously, she was a reporter and features writer for the Chicago Daily News.

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